In which Talbot faces down his foe, and Magpie goes Thieving
On the ridge of the steep, tiled roof, Talbot stared into the eyes of Carver’s captor.
“I beg your pardon?” The oily tones of the Red Mage Cat had been replaced by astonishment. Nobody ever refused his wiles.
“No, you may not escort us to wherever you’re holding Carver. You’ll probably capture us too. We’re not going to stand for any more of your tricks. You are coming with us, and you’ll release Carver to us!”
Behind him, Alice nodded furiously, amazed at Talbot’s bravery.
The Cat narrowed his eyes. “Well,” he said slowly, “I suppose if that’s the way it must be… follow me.”
He turned and stalked along the ridge, tail held high. Talbot shot a look at Alice.
“Go on, then,” she whispered. “But watch out. He’ll try something. Maybe as soon as we’re off the roof.” Talbot nodded.
The pair followed the Cat. He reached a skylight, half propped open, and slid gracefully through it. Talbot and Alice slipped through the gap easily, since they were so much smaller. They dropped through into the roofspace.
“Now— Oh!” The Cat’s confidence changed to surprise as Talbot twisted away from the bag the Cat held, and pulled Alice out of danger hooking his tail around her leg as he dived for the floor.
“You were going to say ‘now I’ve got you’ or something like that?” Talbot said, standing on a crossbeam.
“Well, something like that.” The Cat glared, and led the way through the dusty roofspace. It looked just like the one above the Bull Inn.
“Well done!” Alice breathed. “What next?”
“Keep on your toes. Is your staff still in your pack?”
Alice reached behind her and pulled out the staff the Raven Merchant had given her, waving it so Talbot could see she had it. “I have no idea what it does, though.”
“Didn’t you use it on the Elk?”
“I reckon you know as much about it as you need, then.”
“I reckon you know as much about it as you need, then.”
Alice shrugged and continued to climb up and down the dusty rafters. The Cat definitely had the advantage here; he just stepped across them.
They ignored the hatchway to the lower corridor and, at the end of the roofspace, turned through a panel on the side of the roof. It opened out into a high vaulted room. Below them were various contraptions and objects draped with cloth, some on the floor, some hanging from beams, others mounted on pedestals. A small cage hung at one side, near the window through which they could see the cobbled stones of the market square. A heap of netting lay in front of the window.
“Here we are then! Safely in my, er, office!” The Cat had an unwelcome tone of glee back in his voice.
In the stables of the Bull Inn, Horse and Magpie stood gloomily in the dim stall where they’d been corralled.
“We really fell for that one, didn’t we?” Magpie said.
Horse tossed his head half-heartedly.
“He took those panniers with him, didn’t he?”
Horse nodded again. The shame of it.
It had been simple, really. Polly came in, led them to some nice food, went out again. The Bull had left his stall, charged at them, and they had jumped into the next stall over the barrier. With those pointed horns bearing down on you, accompanied by the yellow eyes and steaming breath, it was understandable. The Bull had laughed at them, eaten the food, and returned to his own quarters, where a second, or rather, third meal awaited him. But he’d checked on the belongings stacked in the corner on his way out, and the panniers containing all Carver’s worldly goods hooked easily onto his horn.
“There must be a way out.” Magpie started tapping on all the walls, working his way around methodically. He returned to Horse. “Your turn.”
Equally methodically, the horse sidestepped around the stall, launching a well-aimed kick at each panel.
“That one sounds a bit weak. Give it another go.”
Horse executed another perfect blow, retracting his hoof before it could get stuck in the resulting hole. Magpie stuck his nose through, avoiding the splinters rubbing his beak up the wrong way.
“Yes, that’s perfect. Give it another, just above… now another here.”
Following directions, Horse made the hole big enough for Magpie to squeeze through.
“Okay. Make enough noise for two of us, to give me cover. I’ll go and do some exploring, get our stuff back, and maybe some bits and pieces to make up for our indignities.
Horse nodded, and turned to start on the partition they’d jumped over in the first place.
“Your office… yes,” Talbot said, looking around. “Where’s Carver?”
“That’s for you to find out, my clever friend.”
Alice hissed something in his ear, but Talbot just shook his ears to make her move back. He tossed his head a few times as well. Alice frowned, but she edged away from him, and continued to move in the direction he’d indicated while Talbot went forward to speak to the Cat.
“Now, Cat!” He planted himself in front of the Red Mage Cat, feet apart, hands on hips. “It’s not good enough. You steal people away without so much as a ‘by your leave’, then lead people into a magical morass, then make out you’ve saved them by making them follow your infernal light to a place they do not wish to be.”
The Cat leaned his head back, dropping his chin to maintain his view of his diminutive foe. This was a new kind of traveller, one who recognised his tricks for what they were. How?
“It’s about time you released Carver, since you’ve been tormenting him for days. Has he eaten?”
“Ah, well, that’s where you underestimate my hospitality,” the Cat blustered. “I’ve been giving him the best food, and wine, but he didn’t want it, oh no.”
“Maybe you didn’t keep him in a condition where he was able to eat, huh? Maybe you had him strung up in a cage, unable to eat those foods you tempted him with. I don’t call that hospitality, no sir!”
“Well, what would you do?” the Cat wheedled. How did this chap know what he’d been doing?
Talbot wondered the same. Somehow he seemed to have a clear vision of everything the Cat had been doing, yet he had been as befogged as anyone else before they had arrived at Erewhen.
Alice had got to the other side of the heap of netting. He winked at her, raised his hand, letting her glimpse the black stone of courage concealed in his palm, and threw it at the Cat. At the same time, Alice stamped her staff.
The Cat flew into the air to avoid the stone.
The netting unravelled all of its own accord, and left Carver sitting in the middle, unfettered, but considerably dazed.
Talbot jumped into the air, used his tail to swing round several beams and arrived behind the Cat in time to catch his stone.
He pointed two fingers at the Cat, who hovered in mid-air. Then Talbot gently guided him into the netting, Carver having vacated it with Alice’s help. Alice stamped the staff again and the netting enclosed the Cat.
“Now what have you to say for yourself, Mr Red Mage Cat?” Talbot stood in front of him again, with arms crossed, and tapping one long foot while he waited.
“H-how did you do that?”
“I reckon I learnt it from the Elk of the Woods, but maybe the Wandering Merchant’s magic had something to do with it too.”
The Cat stared unblinking, shocked.
Alice came around and stood beside Talbot. “Blimey, I thought you were just taking root with that elk.”
Talbot turned the stone in his hand. “I’ve no idea how I knew all this as soon as I met the Cat on the roof. It must be magic.”
“What are we going to do with him? And Carver isn’t in a fit state to travel, if we’re going to get on the road.”
“Yes, I think we should go, get a long way from here. Let’s get Horse and Magpie. I hope that rumpus we heard earlier doesn’t mean they’re in trouble.”
“Come on Carver, you’re safe now. I think.” Alice helped him to his feet, and he limped towards the door with her.
Talbot turned back to the Cat, who just glared. Each had the same thought in his mind: How had he just done all that?
to be continued…
© J M Pett 2018
Illustration © Danielle English 2016